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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks at a White House Briefing for Representatives of Veterans Organizations

1990-10-11

Thank you very much for coming to the White House. And I want to single out and thank my fellow Cabinet member here, Ed Derwinski, who's doing an outstanding job for the American veterans, in my view. And I understand also that our Chairman of our Joint Chiefs was over here, Colin Powell. And then I think you heard from another right-hand man of mine who's the number two guy on our National Security Council, Bob Gates -- extraordinarily knowledgeable about what's happening halfway around the world. And so, I hope you feel that it's been worth your time; from my standpoint, it is certainly worth mine to get to come over here and to greet this distinguished group.

I'm glad to see Bob Turner, Joe Andry, and Jim Kimery from three of our major veterans organizations. I just met with some others -- important leaders -- in the hall. I want to recognize Mr. Orval M. Hooten, over here, national commander of the Veterans of World War I. What I want to do is find out the kind of youth pills he's taking -- [laughter] -- because he was born in October 1895. Happy birthday, this month, thank you. And thanks for being with us, Orval.

We are pleased to welcome all of you here and to tell you how much that I personally -- and all of us at the White House -- appreciate your efforts, your organizations. And we support you, and we appreciate your support.

During the past 10 weeks, the events in the Gulf have reminded us of the importance of a strong America. And the world is still a dangerous place, and America must be ready. In World War II, the world paid dearly for appeasing an aggressor who could have been stopped early on. And we're not going to make that same mistake again.

Exactly 50 years ago today, America awoke to headlines of another massive air raid in London. The Battle of Britain was in full rage then. And true, the democracies were battered, but their resolve was never more clear. And they did, indeed, stand up to tyranny. And a day later, on October 12th, Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of England, was canceled. As Churchill said, it was truly Britain's finest hour. Such courage inspired America and, indeed, the world, which rallied to the cause of freedom and defeated the dark forces which threatened to engulf us all.

Since World War II, allied strength and resolve have been tested over and over again, but when we look back on that history of valor and sacrifice, it is clear that the strength of our arms and the strength of our will is up to the challenge in the Gulf. We're ready for that, and we're not alone. Thanks to the efforts of our U.N. Ambassador, Tom Pickering, and others, the U.N. Security Council has passed eight major resolutions setting the terms for solving the crisis.

And the Iraqi regime, in my view, has yet to fully face up to the facts. But as I've said, the annexation of Kuwait will not be permitted to stand. And the regime is up against not only the law of nations but also the law of mathematics. The numbers are against them. Today it's not Iraq versus Kuwait; it's not Iraq versus the United States; it's Iraq against the entire world.

By waging a war of aggression, plundering a peaceful neighbor, and holding these innocents hostage, Iraq has violated every standard of international behavior. And we're not talking about international etiquette here; we're talking about international law. And outlaw nations and outlaw leaders simply have got to understand that.

Here at home, the efforts of you in this room to improve the lot of veterans has been an important component in the success of America's all-volunteer forces. Colin Powell -- maybe he told you about this -- but he recently returned from a visit with our troops in the Gulf. And your support is evident in the pride and high morale found today in the young American heroes serving overseas.

It reminds me of another hero. And it was this very week in 1918 that Tennessee's Sergeant York captured 132 enemy prisoners and 35 machineguns singlehandedly. And when asked how he did it, he answered simply, ``I surrounded 'em.'' [Laughter] And that's about what we've come to expect from an American soldier. And that kind of spirit is going to carry us to victory in whatever challenges we face.

Tonight, as evening falls across America, there will be candles in our windows and prayers in our hearts. The Empire State Building will be awash in lights -- red, white, and blue -- lights to honor the men and women in uniform now standing watch in the Persian Gulf. And like your presence here today -- and like your good works every day -- these gestures show that the folks at home have not forgotten the sacrifice of our soldiers and our sailors and our airmen and our marines -- and I might add, also, our coastguardsmen, many on duty tonight many miles from home.

So, I really wanted to come over to thank you for the important work in defending our nation's freedom. You've been in the forefront. You've seen it clearly when others were suggesting that -- given the relaxation of tensions with the Soviet Union and other countries in Eastern Europe -- that the defense mission was over. Well, as we've seen clearly, it is not over. And I wanted to thank you all for the support that you have given to reasonable levels of defense spending, because you've seen so clearly the need to keep our country strong.

Thanks for coming to the White House, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Edward J. Derwinski; Robert M. Gates, Assistant to the President and Deputy for National Security Affairs; Robert S. Turner, national commander of the American Legion; Joseph E. Andry, national commander of the Disabled American Veterans; and James L. Kimery, commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

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